Like a bogus parking ticket or botched drug bust, the concept of justice is often a victim of circumstance. Superheroes make it look so easy. The circumstances are so clear cut. They don’t need an overpriced lawyer or an under-qualified judge to determine that Lex Luthor, Darkseid, and the Joker are bad guys. Even Johnny Cochran would admit there’s no ambiguity there. It’s comforting and easy to see justice in this context, largely because we never see it in the real world outside of cases that involve a traffic violation by Lindsey Lohan.
That’s what makes the world of Justice League: Gods and Monsters #1 so jarring to an audience that’s used to seeing Superman rescue kittens from trees. The justice in this world feels more ambiguous. The lines of truth are obscure and the personalities of its heroes are anything but idealistic. This is far from the world we wished we lived in as kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. So it’s somewhat ironic that this incredibly flawed world comes from the mind of Bruce Timm, who created some of those memorable cartoons.
It’s a world where Batman kills, Superman is an arrogant jerk, and Wonder Woman a hornier version of Rhonda Rousey. But these characters are not like the Crime Syndicate or even the Justice Lords. They’re still heroes. They’re just not the kind of heroes that belong on lunch boxes and backpacks. Each character had their own mini-series to establish them as individuals. The purpose of Justice League: Gods and Monsters #1 is to show how they became a team. And in this world, it’s safe to assume they didn’t come together after a rousing speech from Mel Gibson.
The story itself isn’t told from the perspective of any of the three characters. It’s told through Lois Lane. In this world, she’s not a love interest or a moving target for feminists who are tired of seeing her rescued every other day. She’s more Rachel Maddow than Lois Lane at times, but she provides an important perspective that gives the story just the right tone. She is, by far, the harshest critic of these three characters. She makes it clear that she doesn’t like them as individuals or as a team. However, she makes it clear that she is a big believer in justice, which apparently sets her apart from half the commentators on Fox News.
The story Lois tells describes a group of heroes that aren’t trying to be heroes in the traditional sense. If the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman of this world, they’re going to do it their way. And if anyone has a problem with that, then that’s their problem. They’re not at each others’ throats when they start to interact, but they’re anything but Super Friends. Superman and Wonder Woman are just as likely to fight one another as they are to sleep with one another. It’s a strange dynamic that usually isn’t found outside of a Judd Apatow movie, but it works in this story.
By establishing that these versions of the Justice League are arrogant, selfish, and violent early on, it’s not entirely clear who the villains are here. That’s the biggest strength of the story because there is another story unfolding alongside that of the nascent Justice League. It’s a story that involves another nuanced version of a familiar DC team, namely the Forever People. Like the Justice League, their history and purpose is different in this world. And the extent to which they’re allies or enemies is a mystery. However, it involves an enigmatic billionaire recluse who isn’t named Bruce Wayne so it’s easy to make assumptions.
The Forever People in this world are the brainchild of Jackson Alpert, who is basically a much more sinister version of Steve Jobs and Stephen Hawking. He claims to have a way to turn any human being into a god. He claims anyone can have the body of a Photoshopped supermodel and the durability of Brett Favre and Nolan Ryan. The only catch is that it’s reserved for the super rich. It basically means that only the Warren Buffets and Donald Trumps of the world can achieve this kind of power. Naturally, it doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, including the Justice League.
From here, the mystery unfolds. And because of the inherent ambiguity of this world, it’s really hard to tell just how sincere Jackson Alpert is. There’s almost a sense among the Justice League that they want him to be sincere. They want him to mean everything he says. They want it the same way some people want their drug dealers to be honest with them. It creates this tension, especially among Superman and Wonder Woman, that eventually comes back to haunt both of them.
Eventually, Jackson Alpert does reveal he’s more Lex Luthor than Reed Richards. And thanks to some detective work from Batman, the ambiguity fades to a point where we now know who the clear villain is in this world where there are no clear heroes. In addition, it becomes very apparent at this point in the story that this isn’t a villain that Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman can defeat on their own. If they want to save the world and their own selfish butts, they have to work together.
By the end, the bigger picture in Justice League: Gods and Monsters #1 is clear. These versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are still arrogant jerks, but they’re arrogant jerks that have a vested interest in keeping the world intact. They don’t seek to work together. They don’t even like the idea of working together. But it’s something they end up doing to face a threat that’s bigger than any of them. It’s not the most noble set of circumstances under which the Justice League is formed, but it captures all the right themes.
There are still points where the plot drags a bit, but it never feels choppy or boring. We get only a minor glimpse into this world of Justice League: Gods and Monsters, but in this glimpse, we see a world that has plenty to offer. For those who are tired of a world where Superman tells kids to eat their vegetables, this world will definitely appeal.